February 26, 2010

A day in Mexico with life, death and the sounds of music

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - The dichotomies in Mexico, at least where Admiral Fox and I hang our respective Tilley hats, are striking. Some people have Internet and drive nice new trucks,  others live in huts with dirt floors and ride burros for transportation. Some folk are very educated, others have very little schooling.

But perhaps the greatest dichotomy is the ability of the Mexican people to struggle with serious problems, dust themselves off and move on - often smiling as they do so...

Case in point:

Admiral Fox, CEO Laura and I went to Tenacatita Beach Thursday for lunch. Adm. Fox and Laura bicycled (into a strong south wind it turned out) while I drove the support vehicle with the boogie boards and snorkel gear.

And, as always, it was fabulous there, with great food and the water temperature quite nice. (CAPTAIN'S NOTE: Thursday, a bus runs from Melaque to Tenacatita so be ready for lots of gringo company...)

Julien with sick dog
Oscar the vet and Julien with a sick dog

But at 2 p.m., we returned to meet with Oscar the veterinarian from Miguel Hildago. He was there to give distemper vaccinations - and most likely to put down a dog that clearly had distemper. The street-side passion play over whether to put the dog down went on for nearly an hour. The owners weren't sure, other residents (especially those with pooches who had been in contact with the sick dog) were very sure. And after a long conversation with a half-dozen adults and many more children, the vet went into a secluded yard and gave the dog a single shot, while I stood by.

The dog was gone in probably 30 seconds and was buried on the beach by our amigo French surfer-dude Julien, who helped calm the dog while the injection was given.

That would have been quite enough for me, except that another family brought over their sick puppy for Oscar to take a look at, a puppy who seemed to be having serious coordination problems and who had stopped eating.

Yup, distemper, too, the vet said.

And so within another half-hour - and much more talking - veterinarian Oscar took the puppy into the yard (away from the owners' eyes) and gave it an injection to end its suffering. And it was suffering, clearly, I could see.

Puppy with distemper
Puppy with distemper

At that point, with Julien headed to the beach to bury the first dog, I scooped up the now-passed puppy and headed to the beach myself on our quad, shovel in hand to bury the pooch, all wrapped up ingloriously in a black trash bag.

After my experience last year - having to put down our dog Lucky - it was extremely hard to witness the first dog's injection and death, even harder to witness and then take charge of the deceased puppy. But it was obvious that the puppy had to be taken away quickly so the family (including a two-year-old, who obviously loved the animal) wouldn't have the body as a reminder.

Puppy Grave
Puppy grave on the beach
All of this would have sent me to the wine bottle early, except we had scheduled a night of music for the children in the village. Many of the children are taking English classes from Laura. And all of their much younger siblings were interested in the notion of gringo music.

And so, two hours after working with a shovel on the beach, I was setting up cameras and helping Myranda O'Byrne, Michael Hearn and Adm. Fox get ready for the 50 children (and a handful of adults) who came flooding in the Pink Flamingo gates at the appointed hour for concert and music lesson.

Some of the children (and adults) were the same ones who had been involved in the decisions earlier about the dogs.

But you would never have known it. They listened to the music with pure joy.

Music night audience
Music night audience

Myranda with the children in Arroyo Seco
Myranda with the children

So what are the lessons here?

Well, for one, dogs need to be vaccinated for distemper. That doesn't happen often here, though with Adm. Fox on the case, things are likely to change in this hamlet.

But the second lesson is that death and life are sooooo close to the surface. There is no sterile vet's office where a dog is put down behind a closed door by white-coat-clad medical staff.

And at the same time, the joy of life is so close to the surface, too.

I have never heard such enthusiasm from children singing 'Bingo' or 'Five Little Ducks.'

Even I was singing Quack Quack Quack by the time it was over last night.

And yes, it made me feel a lot better.


February 20, 2010

When the rain clears, time to head to beaches - again

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - After a torrential rainstorm Thursday night, we headed for the beaches Friday to dry, so to speak.

The rain and thunderstorm was spectacular for about an hour, but the muddy mess it made, quite unwelcome. We did weather it better than the last onslaught which lasted several days.

Still, the rain has made the area sooooo lush and green it is amazing. So are the mosquitos, amazing, not lush and green.

We loaded up the Tundra and the quad and headed to a small protected swimming beach at the south end of Playa Grande where CEO Laura said she saw only a single stingray in the water near the rocks .

One is enough for me, single or married.

Beach camp
Randy, Karen, Sylvia and Laura at Beach Camp Bravo

Geordie with a fish
Neighbor Jordie lands a Forel at Playa Grande

Mia says, Say What
Princessa Mia says, Say what?

Video: At the beach

Video: Rain again?

February 18, 2010

A dangerous roadtrip, Olympic highlights and a trip to a chilly beach

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - It rained again Wednesday. Real rain, as in slick-as-shit-road rain but the Pink Flamingo needed propane (for a new gas BBQ grill brought in last week by amigos Jim and Vicky), the gasoline supplies were low for the motorcycles and we needed some plumbing supplies to fix the geysers that have erupted in our sprinkler system.

A quick trip down the highway to the neighboring cities of Melaque and Cihuatlan solved all of those issues, though my neighbor Chon was concerned about my carrying gasoline and propane in the Toyota Tundra in one load.

Chon looked in the back of the truck and declared that with the tanks and gasoline cans, I had created una bomba. Yup, it means bomb. And even though he was concerned, he did hand me a 20-liter gasoline can to fill for him at the Pemex station.

Having transported a lot of propane and gasoline over the years for various boats, I knew enough to keep them quite separated with the propane tanks secured the cab of the truck, the gasoline (and diesel) strapped securely in the back. The propane tanks looked quite cute with their seat belts on.

No seat belts needed
No seat belts needed here

A celebratory lunch was in order after the solo voyage, and I followed the truck above into La Manzanilla, watching as the younger children leaned over the edge of the truck trying to touch the leaves on the low hanging branches of the trees.

There is a seat belt law in Mexico. The driver has to have one firmly buckled, as least on the highways and in Puerto Vallarta where the city police have discovered tagging people sans seatbelts is a good way to make some revenue.

It's the one place I buckle up all the time.

Watching curling at Palapa Joes
Better than watching golf. Really

At Palapa Joe's, the restaurant had a good lunch crowded packed in, with all eyes glued to the television where Olympic coverage was on from the Winter Olympics.

And while my first choice would have been downhill skiing and/or ski jumping, the women's curling events actually were far more interesting than I thought they would be. While I wolfed down a club sandwich, it was the Germans vs. the Americans and the yells and grunts from one German team member were wild.

Those Germans take their curling seriously.


Laura Warner with Princessa Hazel
Laura with Princess Mia at Tenacatita

Earlier this week, Admiral Fox and Laura and I did take an afternoon off to go to Tenacatita Beach for lunch and some boogie boarding and snorkeling, taking along Princess Mia (I knew Hazel wouldn't stick) for the sojourn.

We met up with friends Randy and Karin from California and also winter Tenacatita Beach denizens Mario and Sharon who were leaving the next day to return to Portland.

But the overcast socked in solid, and it was almost cold (in the low 70s, brrr... ), a big change from earlier trips this winter when we were bobbing in the surf to keep cool.

Some of the tourists even took to jogging to keep warm.

Jogging bikini at Tenacatita
Jogging to keep warm at Tenacatita Beach

February 16, 2010

Autlan adventures, attorneys and a Princess joins the Pink Flamingo

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral, CEO Laura and I barreled out of the Pink Flamingo at 7 a.m. Monday, for a drive across two big mountains to the city of Autlan for an appointment with an attorney who has some documents we need.

At least we thought we had an appointment.

His door was securely locked and a group milling about outside said because it was the end of Carnaval Week, it was likely he could be sleeping off a bender.

We were not amused, but, well, it's Mexico.

Wrong Arturo Gonzalez
The wrong place

We were dispatched to another office by a fellow giving us directions who insisted there was an attorney there by the same name. And he was right. But the senor there - now a dispenser of natural drugs - gave up his law practice many years ago. He seemed like he might have been willing to break out his law shingle again, though. The health business looked a little slow.

What was not slow was the Carnaval, gearing up for its last day and night.

Admiral Fox and Laura were cornered by two horsemen who insisted that they drink a cup of a strange-looking punch, poured from a wooden container to be part of the festivities.

Autlan horsemen ready to rock and roll
Ready to ride again, with drink in hand

The long drive (nearly 6 hours total) was capped back home by the rescue/adoption of a small black dog that had been wandering about the entrance to Arroyo Seco for several days.

We had seen the dog late Sunday night, sleeping in the middle of the road. Then, Monday morning it was still there, though looking somewhat distressed. When we returned Monday afternoon late, Adm. Fox and Laura donned their capture-a-dog outfits and went out to bring the pooch back to the Pink Flamingo.

So far, the dog, which I have dubbed Hazel (though Princessa Hazel seems to have more traction), has been bathed by her attendants and is working her way through a bag of imported salami we purchased at Costco. I believe she also slept in CEO Laura's condominio last night.

If the Princessa demands to drink some of the Pinot Grigio I bought, we will have to talk.

Hazel gets a bath
Princessa Hazel gets a Pink Flamingo welcome

February 14, 2010

A three-day road trip to Puerto Vallarta - but sans any appointments

PUERTO VALLARTA, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral and I packed up mid-week and headed north to Puerto Vallarta to see the kids (ok, they are in their 30s, but kids are kids) and granddaughter Sasha, of course, leaving the Pink Flamingo in the capable hands of CEO Laura Warner.

And for the first time in many such forays along Mexico's Highway 200, we didn't have medical appointments, dental work, car repairs or any other pressing engagements planned.

So why am I so tired?

We managed to fill in the hours with lots of quality time with Sasha and Dustin and Cami, and, of course, I made a couple of trips to Home Depot - but no new solar lights this time :-(  I also managed to stop by a marine hardware store where I bought, well, some marine hardware.

In the course of the trip, we also went out and looked at some property Dustin and Cami are considering purchasing, with the idea of eventually building a house there. Oh, now I realize why I am so tired. Even the thought of a project that size sends me right to a hammock.


Grandpa Michael and Sasha
Grandpa Michael and Sasha enjoy some pizza at Paradise Mall

Tonight we head into La Manzanilla, where Admiral Fox has another performance with the Celtic Duo she hooked up with earlier this year. It's only a one-hour performance, but right now she is practicing the playlist, much to the delight of the neighbors who have, rather politely, turned down the ever-present banda music to listen.

Her violin is in need of professional attention, however and she said she is learning how to play around a string that lets out a non-musical noise every once in a while.

I can't hear it, but then, I play a ukulele and just sing louder when I don't know the chord.

Here's a brief video of granddaughter Sasha, who is learning the fine art of diving...

February 7, 2010

Move over Saints and Colts for a Super 'futbol' Sunday in Arroyo Seco

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - This Sunday morning was unusually noisy with truckloads of families loading up chairs and supplies and kids in a frenzy of activity rarely seen on the one day a week that Mexico takes a break.

And the trucks were all headed away from the beach - not towards it - where for the last two days, most of the town had been fishing at the open laguna and having a wild time.

Today though, they were headed for the soccer field (400 yards from the Pink Flamingo) where the young guys were going to play the older guys from the rancho.

What a show! Move over Saints and Colts.

soccer match spectators
Spectators at Sunday's futbol

There weren't any television cameras, commercials, halftime shows or political commentary. But there was plenty of food and plenty of beer around.

Families set up tables at which to eat - and sometimes sell - food and drink. And nearly all the young boys kicked around their own soccer balls in the fields behind the nets to get ready for their turns in future years to play against their older brothers and fathers. And yes, boys. Not a soccer ball was launched by any of the many girls watching.

Several neighbors asked me to head out onto the field to join one team - and not the one with young guys :-(

As luck would have it, I didn't have proper footgear and was able to beg off - though I did boot the ball back onto the field a couple of times when it was out of bounds where we were standing.

(SPECIAL NOTE TO CAPTAIN: Always carry chairs when headed to any event in Arroyo Seco.)

February 6, 2010

The Pink Flamingo Doors have arrived with, um, a Pink Flamingo

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - We were getting ready to head out to the beach today for a fiesta with our French surfer-dude amigo Julien when our welder-dude amigo, Victor, showed up with our new doors for the front of the property.

Victor is a welder, but beneath the goggles and torches, he is an artist.

And so a few weeks ago we commissioned him to build us some big steel doors for the front of the Pink Flamingo. Of course, the doors we ordered were to have a pink flamingo as part of the design.

They do.

They really do.

Pink Flamingo doors
Victor with his artwork doors

The irony - and there is plenty to go around - is that after we had turned Victor loose on the project, we decided not to build a concrete wall out front this season, where the doors were to hang.

So now we have the doors, and next year will build a wall on which to hang them.

It might take me that long to get used to looking at the Pink Flamingo painted on them.

Julien and family
Julien, Michelle, Maurice and Max

After we got the doors squared away, the Admiral and I headed via quad to Playa Grande for a largely French family fete on the beach with Julien, his brother Max, father Maurice (and his wife, Michelle), Max's amiga Ana and Pink Flamingo Chief Education Officer Laura Warner.

The food was amazing: oysters, platters of barbecued dorado, fresh salads, tortillas, wine, and of course, a lot of Mexican beer.

But the most amazing part, for me, was trying to listen (and speak) English, French and Spanish, almost simultaneously.

It was amazing because years of high school and college French began to come back the more we talked. And Spanish was the default language when we couldn't communicate.

Thank you Jon Giacco (one of my high school French teachers), for drilling something into my head.

And also a thank you to Pink Flamingo Chief Education Officer Laura Warner (fluent in Spanish, French and English) for filling in the many gaps in conversation.

Mon Dieu! It was complicated.

Oysters for all
Party dives into the oysters

Days of wet weather opens up the laguna in Arroyo Seco

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - We heard the excitement in the village a day ago as several pickups roared out of town towards the lagoon that borders the south end of Playa Grande.

People in the trucks were shouting that la laguna was open and spilling water out into the ocean and wanted us to come and see.

In years past, we've seen the lagoon open to the north and while it has been interesting, this just didn't seem to merit roaring down the dirt road to get there in a big hurry.

We were wrong.

The lagoon opened up to the south this time, and blew through a 10-foot high sand berm to do so. There must have been an incredible amount of water from the lagoon in back to push that much sand out of the way to open it up. And, of course, there might have been some human assistance.

Either way, it was impressive seeing the water pouring out.

Laguna water rushing out
Water from the lagoon rushing to sea

What had people in the village sooooooo excited was the fishing at the mouth of the lagoon. It was (and still is as I write this) nothing short of fabulous. And the fish were going in both directions, some getting caught but most swimming to safety.

While standing on the bank, we saw people catching three-foot long fish, and we could also see large fishing swimming upstream, perhaps to spawn.

Families with children were working with nets, dragging in big hauls. It was a fiesta grande for everyone.

Laguna nets
Netting fish

Swirling waters and fish
Swirling waters, full of fish

February 3, 2010

Whopper of a storm hits Arroyo Seco, no power, but lots of water

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - A thunderstorm that lasted for hours walloped little Arroyo Seco (and the rest of the Costalegre) bringing six inches of rain to some towns, and maybe half that much here. Anything we would use as a rain gauge got blown over and dumped in the high winds that hit in the middle of the night.

Most impressive was the lightning display.

In all the storms I've seen in New York, California and the midwestern U.S., nothing comes close.

We are checking today to see if our sailing amigos in Tenacatita Bay are all right.

The Admiral several times in the night said, " I am soooooo glad we are not out at anchor."


Here's a video of the storm - and the aftermath.

February 2, 2010

Rains come to Arroyo Seco - no outside work today

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - The humidity was about 100 percent Monday when I mowed the grass with our new-to-the-Pink-Flamingo lawnmower. But that kind of humidity usually spells rain and so I was determined to cut the sacate.

And at about 2 a.m. I was rewarded for my labors with, at first, a nice gentle shower, followed by about seven hours of pretty steady rain. The property drained pretty well, though we did end up with several lagunas here and there.

As I write this, just past beer o'clock, it has stopped and the puddles are gradually disappearing into the ground. But more rain is forecast and I am scrambling to find all the tarps I just neatly folded, in case either of our trailers decides to take on water.

And the best news? The work I had planned for today is effectively canceled. That means I finally get to watch the movie Avatar (for a second time...).

Grass getting greener
Greener grass on the way

So what do you do on a rainy day in Mexico? Same as in the U.S.

Everyone sits around and talks about the rain - and the weather in general. Our neighbor Chon came over and like a couple of Iowa farmers, we thoroughly discussed the weird weather patterns that have been in evidence since we arrived in December. We discussed things thoroughly at least as much as my Spanish - and his English - would allow.

But mud puddles aside, one side benefit is not having to wash the cars! They have been rinsed thoroughly, including the new carrito just purchased by Chief Educational Officer Laura Warner/

And if I am hearing correctly, another heavy duty rinsing might be on the way.

Laura's carrito
Laura's new carrito

February 1, 2010

Rolling out early to watch the moon set on the ocean

PLAYA CHICA, Arroyo Seco, Jalisco, Mexico - Two days ago the Admiral and I rolled out early (early for me anyway) to zip down to the beach and watch the full moon set, while the sun peeked over the horizon behind us.

We've have been told it was the brightest moon of the year and it did live up to that description.

It also was the coldest ride I have had on the quad, maybe ever. Even in long pants and with a long sleeve shirt on I shivered on the one kilometer trip. No bugs in the air, though.

The trip was worth it and we even ran into our neighbor Martin out walking his two pooches, part of his daily exercise-on-the-beach routine. Martin's nickname in the village is Spiderman. No, I have no idea why and I don't think he does either.

setting moon
Setting moon on Playa Chica

Then yesterday we had one of those wild afternoons with a group of vacationistas from Hector, New York. Hector is where we live in the summer and it has many of the same characteristics as life here in Mexico. It's a little colder (ok, a lot colder), but the fun there is non-stop, too.


After a tour of Arroyo Seco and Playa Grande we zoomed over to Playa Chica for puesta del sol and margaritas.

Then it was back to the Pink Flamingo for cocktails and eventually dinner at Juanita's back downtown in Arroyo Seco.

Laura and Don Miguel look at the sunset
Laura and the Captain check out the sunset

Camp Hector South
Camp Hector New York, South

Pink Flamingo crowd
Drinks at the Pink Flamingo before dinner